Monday, 21 December 2015

SCBWI Winchester Conference 2015

It's already a month past my first SCBWI conference but the memories are still vivid and I would like to share these with you. Winchester is such a pretty town with a special atmosphere filled with creativity. I did not have enough time to explore it but here are a few photos I took.

The conference was held in the University of Winchester, which is very modern compared to the rest of the architecture. I loved the chilly walks to the university, passing through the same cemetery with my newly-made friends on all three days spent in Winchester. 

I arrived a day earlier and attended one of the free Friday Fringe events about pitching in a local pub. It was all about extracting the essence of your story and getting to know your characters better. This was a new thing for me but very useful and thought-provoking. The optional paid critique sessions took place at the university in groups of 4-6. I was in a picture book group and like all others had to review manuscripts in advance. I chose to show my portfolio this time but next year I will definitely bring a dummy since you could get feedback from both writers and illustrators. The day ended with a nice dinner in a lively company at a friendly pizzeria. 

The conference was titled "New Readers Ahoy!" and had a piratical theme throughout paying tribute to one of the four keynote spreakers, Jonny Duddle. Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre is a well known writer and illustrator duo in the children's book world but seeing them live is such a pleasure. You do feel like a kid again, singing along with them and playing games. This is probably the best thing about being a children's book author - you don't have to act seriously. Have fun!

Jonny Duddle dressed up like a pirate and captivated the audience with his real life stories as well as those from his fabulous books. Jonny explained his creative process and how he prefers working digitally for the flexibility. You can read about his illustrating technique in this article.

While I was waiting for my 20 minute Portfolio 121 critique with a commissioning editor from Hodder Children's Books, I looked through the exhibition in the same room. There was a display of the Roald Dahl re-imagined illustration competition entries with gorgeous character designs from his books. The winner was Rikin Parekh with his funny crocodile drawings (top left). 

I am happy to be selected in the Illustrator Showcase, which was launched at the conference will be touring around the country. I was also excited about being the Best Portfolio winner, which offered a feature on "Words & Pictures" online magazine and a free ticket to one of their masterclasses. Here is only a preview of the stunning illustrations from this exhibition. You can see all of them here.

Parrrty time celebrating the members' books published in 2015 and competition winners with a specially-baked ship cake and live music! I did not stay till the very end after such a busy day but did taste the delicious cake before sneaking out.

The last day of the conference was highlighted by the motivational speech and dance from the independent publisher David Fickling who questioned the role of big publishers and spread his passion for books. 

The afternoon was packed with workshops of various kinds. First, I went to the picture book intensive "Fables and Fairy Tales" with David Lucas, who demonstrated how to draw his fantastic characters, explained the structure of picture book narrative and read his beautiful stories. 

We later had a chance to create our own characters out of simple shapes and patterns after choosing 2-3 words from a list you see below. Some were lucky to come up with a story for their characters. I only had a suggestion of a story for my Ice Moon Bird and probably needed more characters to develop a plot. You could try doing this exercise too. I suggest your character has some inner conflict to make things more interesting, such as David's character Halibut Jackson, who is shy and tries to camouflage himself but secretly wants the world to admire the intricate costumes he creates. Halibut definitely succeeded in the end but that also meant he had to overcome his shyness.

I also stayed for the Non-Fiction Picture Books workshop with Juliet Clare Bell and Rebecca Colby. I enjoyed learning about the different kinds of non-fiction books available and browsing through the nice collection on display of mostly American books with lavish illustrations. I would like to try non-fiction in the future, especially about nature. The main writing task, which I actually skipped since I am so new at it, involved using a mentor text from the books that were brought in to help with the format, design, writing style or sentence structure of your own non-fiction story. You can find more about this subject in Clare's post.

For more insight about this conference from illustrators' perspective, please read this great post.

I joined SCBWI at the beginning of the year, but got in contact with other scoobies only recently. I will now look for more opportunities to network and engage with this amazingly supportive community. I am so thankful to SCBWI, which is run entirely by dedicated volunteers, for organising such great events and helping new children's book writers and illustrators.